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Pets and Antifreeze Poisoning

‘Tis the season for snow and ice, and we’re certainly getting our fair share this year. Besides watching out for wintry hazards on the road, we also need to be very vigilant in observing our pets for signs of antifreeze poisoning.

Antifreeze can sometimes accidentally be spilled onto the ground when it is being poured into a vehicle, resulting in a small — and potentially deadly — puddle in your driveway or street. Antifreeze has a sweet taste to dogs and cats, so they will often lick or drink it right off the ground. Cats may also walk through an antifreeze puddle unintentionally and then lick it off their feet. Even that small amount of antifreeze can be fatal to cats, and just a few tablespoons can be fatal to a medium-sized dogs.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning will be obvious very quickly. Your pet may appear drunk/wobbly or unsteady on its feet. You may also observe seizures within 2-3 hours of ingestion. If you suspect your pet may have ingested antifreeze, it is imperative that you seek veterinary attention immediately.

Continued signs of antifreeze poisoning include excessive urinating and drinking, which can occur 1-3 days after ingestion. Antifreeze contains a substance called ethylene glycol that causes extreme kidney failure. Once kidney failure sets in, you may notice your pet urinating less and then, eventually, not at all. Often, a pet may appear to be feeling better a few days before kidney failure becomes critical. Don’t be fooled by this into thinking that your pet may be recovering. If you have any suspicion of antifreeze poisoning, or if you are concerned for the health of your pet, call your veterinarian immediately!

Blood and urine tests are needed to detect the presence of ethylene glycol in your pet’s system. Depending on the time of ingestion, vomiting may be induced. To help prevent kidney failure, IV fluids will need to be administered to your pet for several days.

If your pet has ingested antifreeze within the past 8 hours, a medication called Antizol-Vet (4-MP) may be used to prevent further kidney damage from the by-products of antifreeze. The prognosis for recovery is fair to good if your pet receives this treatment within 8 hours of ingestion, so time is of the essence when treating this kind of poisoning. Multiple doses of the medicine will be required. If it has been longer than 8 hours since ingestion, this medication is not as effective, and the prognosis for survival is poor to grave. Once kidney failure sets in, treatment is very aggressive, but even then survival is not assured.

Prevention of antifreeze poisoning obviously requires keeping antifreeze out of reach of your pets. This type of toxicity is not limited to the wintertime, however, so be sure to take care year-round. Keep all antifreeze containers tightly closed and out of reach of your animals. It is also recommended that you not let your animals out to roam the neighborhood unattended, where they might come upon a wayward puddle of the substance.

When disposing of antifreeze, do not dump it on the ground or in a drain — take it to a proper dump facility for disposal. Check your garage and driveway periodically for antifreeze leaks, and always check for spills after performing an antifreeze fill-up on your car. Clean up spills with towels, then dispose of the towels properly. And ask your local automotive supply store for environmentally-friendly and pet-friendly antifreeze alternatives.

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